On February 18, 2009 the first career day geared specifically towards SIKS PhD students was organized. The main idea was not to find jobs for the PhD students, but to make both industry and PhD students aware of the added value they might have for each other, thus opening up eyes for new career perspectives. We used three questions to capture the theme of the career day: what career possibilities are available for people with PhDs (from SIKS), what kind of job suits them, and how can do you get the job you want. The advantage of organizing a career day for this specific audience is that you can concentrate on careers and on companies and (research) institutes specifically interesting for that audience. In total, 55 SIKS PhD students came to the career day.
Programme of the day
After an inspiring welcome by the director of SIKS, Roel Wieringa, we started the career day by listening to personal stories of four SIKS graduates. They talked about their careers and the choices they made. Virginia Dignum began and explained why and how she returned from business to academia (via places as far abroad as Swaziland). Niek Wijngaards then told he also went abroad (to Canada) even before completely finishing his PhD. He came back to Holland and via temporary university positions ended up with Thales, which seems a good environment for people that want to combine academics and industry. Next, Aldo de Moor talked about how he left academia to start his own research consulting company CommunitySense and what are the pro- and cons of doing that. It was very reassuring to notice that one could still write one’s publications during the evenings, weekends and holidays (as usual in academia). Finally, Cees Pierik explained what it was like to work for a big software company like Logica after your PhD. Although not so much research is done here, projects for industry can also be challenging and very rewarding!
Now we got some intuition about possible careers and the choices along the way, Professor R. Roe from Maastricht University and the company Procam gave a presentation about applying career theory. Starting with how people experience career failure and success, we learned about what factors determine your career path and how one can influence his career. We quickly learned that knowing who you are and what you like is a very important aspect of career success. However, this self-exploration is also one of the most difficult things. Several theories were presented about what aspects are difficult to change and what aspects can be learned. After lunch the day continued with a panel discussion about the added value of a PhD and how to use that added value to your advantage. The panel consisted of Roel Wieringa (SIKS / University Twente), Kees Nieuwenhuis (Thales / D-CIS Lab), Henriette van Vugt (Philips), Hans Abbink (Almende), Anita de Waard (Elsevier), Erik Rongen (IBM), and Bert Kersten (Logica). This panel enabled us to get a wide range of perspectives on several subjects.
The first question posed to the panel is what the panel members consider the benefit of a PhD. Fortunately, we can conclude that it does make a difference! Maybe you do not start in a very different position, but the career path is definitely different. Perceived benefits of a PhD are the proven competence of perseverance, having a helicopter view and the ability to abstract from a specific problem. (Abstracting from a problem does not mean to talk in terms that others do not understand, but to be able to select the important aspects of a problem). Writing skills are also seen as added value. Both writing papers and proposals are definitely useful when working in industry. Spending time abroad (during or after your PhD) is definitely a pre as it shows that you are able to cope with new situations. Although companies appreciate having done a postdoc (especially abroad), remaining in postdoc positions for more than a few years diminishes your chances in industry. It signals that you are not flexible and do not want to move out of academia. Finally, we found out that even in times of economical crisis PhD are wanted.
Next, the day continued with speed dates parallel to workshops given by NWO and PNO about applying for research grants. The workshops were real eye-openers. First of all they showed that the success rate of proposals is very low (lower than 20% in many cases). However, they also showed that there are many more ways to get subsidies and also PhD students have opportunities to write proposals. So, don’t just sit and wait, but take initiative and start writing your own future. During the speed dates, participants had the opportunity to ask companies questions specific to their situation. The speed dates allowed a private conversation with representatives from 10 companies that were knowledgeable about what a PhD could mean in their company. We heard many positive experiences from students and companies from these dates (many stating that this personal contact really gave them some insights about companies they would never had imagined before). Finally, we ended the career day with some drinks to discuss our thoughts and experiences during the day.
We can say that the day was a big success and clearly filled a need for the PhD students. It will certainly be repeated either in one or two years. Thanks to Nick Tinnemeier, Tom van der Weide, Virginia and Frank Dignum for organizing this.